How to create an electronic voting system for mobile phones without install any app on guest’s devices

Collecting the opinions of participants in an event is always useful.

Marco Carlucci, one of my clients who came from the web, knows something about it. Marco involved me to help him create a beautiful show for teenagers on the phenomenon of bullying, but this is the topic of another article.

I was in Rome for a few days, I was in charge of forming the team that would go on tour with Marco’s show. During a lunch, Marco showed me a need having all the contours of a challenge:

Gathering viewers’ opinions without having to install apps on smartphones.

On the market, in fact, there are now numerous alternative solutions to the old televoter: these are event applications, to be installed on the participants’ devices, allowing to register, profile, access control and to collect many other useful data. Surely they are all suitable solutions for conferences, but equally certainly they are not practical at all, in contexts such as that of a theatrical show of the kind that we were staging.

The audience of the bullying show is made up of middle and high school kids. It is held in theaters and, often, the boys arrive just in time for the show to start and immediately return to class afterwards. In this context, asking participants to install an app on their mobile phones is very limiting for the experience due to several factors:

  • Time required for configuration
  • Need for internet
  • Probable presence on the phones of a parental control that prevents the instant installation of an app

Starting from these assumptions, I took action to find a technological solution to the problem.

The main points that I had as guidelines were:

  • NO APP 
  • NO INTERNET
  • Real-time display of the number of voters and instantaneous processing of data on the stage screen for their discussion

The challenge was hard: I got it also by the fact that, comparing myself with some colleagues on the topic, no one was able to give me solutions not going through apps and / or the internet.

Then I had an idea: the captive portal. If you don’t know it, the captive portal is that web page displayed on mobile phones by the system browser when you try to connect to a public or hotel wireless network.

I imagined the user experience as fluid as possible and therefore I conceived this process:

  • Users connect to an open wifi;
  • The survey opens when the connection is requested;
  • Once the survey is completed the browser closes and the user can browse.

But would all this theoretical approach work in practice?

The activity we were planning to create had two critical points:

  • Set up a local wifi system capable of supporting the connection of 1000 devices within a minute (when the survey is launched);
  • Activate a web server within the local network, to provide the web page to all devices, which was able to manage all simultaneous connections.

The second point was technically almost testable, through the opening of hundreds of incognito browser windows; as for the first, however, it was impossible to carry out a test without having the 1000 devices to be physically available.

We therefore foreseen every factor that could affect performance and anticipated the problems as much as possible by carrying out the survey directly in HTML, to make it lighter, and providing a professional wi-fi system for connecting the devices.

I must admit that, when the first day of show and, therefore, of survey arrived, I was excited: it was one of those impossible (or almost) missions that you know you may not be able to complete. For this reason (and a bit for superstition), I hadn’t given Marco any guarantee that the idea would work and I had invited him to protect himself by printing the survey on sheets to be given to the spectators, so that they could fill them in pen, in case of emergency 🙂

In any case, the sheets weren’t needed, the system worked and we added scripts to process the data in real time on the stage screens. Therefore, during the vote, the boys can see on the screens the number of votes sent by the participants and, once the survey is finished, through a series of screens, the presenter discusses the answers received with the audience.

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